The best cooperative board games can be a hugely satisfying experience for both you and your friends. They are a great excuse to bring a group of friends together and share the achievement of a collective victory. And if you don’t always come out on top against what can seem like insurmountable odds, the fun you’ll have along the way. That makes a good cooperative board game well worth the investment.
Good replay value is one of the main points we look for when considering which cooperative board games to include in this list. Even if you’re playing the same game with the same people each time, it should be a new experience. Ideally, the best co-op board games will have a different adventure each time you open the box, regardless of who you’re playing with.
The price tag might seem initially off putting on a lot of analog games, especially as digital distribution is at an all-time high on most forms of entertainment. A big part of that expense comes down to the physical components that help bring the game to life. And while you don’t want them to look shoddy or feel cheap, they don’t need to be perfectly painted either. They should look good and fit in well with the theme of the game.
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For the purposes of this list, cooperative board games don’t necessarily mean fully cooperative either. A few of our favourites might require one person to play as an omnipotent overlord to work against the rest of the group as they try to overthrow them. Alternatively, another might have groups of players working against each other to claim victory.
We’ve listed our favourite cooperative board games below as well as a handful of reasons why we think they’re worth your time. If you’re looking for an introduction to model painting, our best Warhammer 40K starter sets have a little more depth and they’re a great way to immerse yourself in humanity’s grimdark future.
Best cooperative board games
An undisputed classic of cooperative gaming, Pandemic’s battle against a worldwide outbreak isn’t going anywhere any time soon—and thank goodness for that. This is a masterpiece of prioritization, communication, teamwork, and thinking up clever solutions to problems before you all die. Horribly, I might add. This game is brilliant, but it’s also damn hard.
Various diseases have broken out across the globe and your only aim is to cure them. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done; although each character has a special ability to help their team, each turn brings more infections with it, the occasional epidemic, and a general sense of “oh crap, we’re screwed” as you race against the clock.
Better still, there are several flavors of Pandemic available now. Pandemic: Iberia is a great twist on the original game with a new map, historical setting, and fresh diseases to fight.
Meanwhile, Pandemic: Legacy (opens in new tab) is the long-term version. It’s a game that has you fighting disease in an evolving campaign that sees cities annihilated, characters killed, and deadly infections given permanent (probably silly) names. It’s now in a second season, so you can play some 24 games in your own evolving world.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: One player’s a ghost and the others are psychics trying to discover who was behind their decades-old murder. No? Good—Mysterium’s probably for you, in that case.
Storming out of Ukraine in 2015, this game was being played untranslated and unlocalized at gaming conventions long before an English edition even made it to the shelves. There’s good reason for that—Mysterium is wonderfully weird. The ‘ghost’ has been unfortunately murdered, and they must tell other players what happened to them using nothing but cards bearing surrealist images. The detective psychics are then on the clock to narrow down their pool of suspects, murder locations, and weapons. It’s a hilarious game of deduction with a dash of creativity, boasting the kind of play that generates more in-jokes thank we can count (though it’s not quite the same, Mysterium is also on Steam (opens in new tab)).
It’d all been going so well. Our team was working like clockwork to explore the house, we’d gathered up many useful items for use on our quest, and then a dirty great bird swooped down and carried the mansion away. After recovering from our surprise, we were informed that the goal was now simple: we had to escape via parachutes hidden in the attic. Easy, right? Unfortunately not. You see, there were four of us and only two parachutes. Bummer.
This is Betrayal at House on the Hill at its best: Bizarre, surprising, and gripping in equal measure. With randomly-selected scenarios and a modular board that results in different settings each time you play, it’s genuinely tense. You never know what’s coming next or whether you’ll survive it. Better still, it usually pits one set of players against an unexpected traitor. Tactics become essential, and communication is even more so. If you haven’t tried this one yet, we can’t recommend it enough.
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For a lighter version of the Pandemic experience, you should definitely check out Forbidden Island. A race against time to recover artifacts on a sinking island, it uses the same kind of mechanics but in a simpler, faster fashion. As a team of intrepid explorers, you must embark on a do-or-die quest together to snatch up as much loot as you can before it’s lost beneath the waves.
Players shore up the island with sandbags as they dash from place to place (snagging artifacts as they go) before taking their ill-gotten gains to a waiting helicopter, but they’ll need to coordinate if they want to succeed—you win or lose together. Collaborative, strategic thinking forms the backbone of this Forbidden Island, and its short run-time makes it easy to squeeze in before or after a bigger game.